Which Way: The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner

I enjoy thinking about happiness; however, according to happiness experts, this should make me quite unhappy.  Over-thinking and over-analyzing are two of the biggest causes of general gloominess.  Yet, I think that true happiness comes from being aware.  Aware of what makes you happy and aware of when you experience joy.

These thoughts float around my brain quite a bit.  So when a commenter suggested I check out the book The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner, I headed straight over to amazon and bookmarked the page for future purchasing.  The book follows the author as he travels the world searching for what makes people happy (or unhappy as the case may be) in different countries.

Now, admittedly, Weiner and I are coming from different places.  He’s an older guy and self-identified grouch whilst I am young, a girl and identify as an optimist.  Normally I don’t think of these differences when reading a book.  Take Bill Bryson for instance—you never feel a barrier between his outlook and yours.

In fact, as I began to read, I kept on coming back to different Bryson books I had read.  Weiner’s tone was so similar, yet entirely dissimilar to Bryson’s.   Unfortunately, the difference came through in the success of their humor.  Where Bryson’s jokes sing and feel completely effortless, Weiner’s attempts at humor consistently felt strained and fell flat.  This distracted me for the good first quarter of the book, so much so that I was unsure whether or not I was enjoying it at all.

Luckily, the tone mitigated and I grew used to it.  Once I got passed that, and once he journied on to locations a bit more interesting than Switzerland (quite interesting to be honest, just a bit difficult to make fun of), the narrative improved.  Weiner doesn’t seek to answer where is the happiest place on the earth, rather he wants to know what makes certain places happy, especially when they shouldn’t be.

He chooses an interesting mix to explore:  The Netherlands, Switzerland, Qatar, Moldova, Thailand, Great Britain, India and the US.  He follows more/less the same pattern in each place.  He integrates himself into the culture (or tries to) and figures out what makes the people tick.  He wants to know whether or not the individuals are happy compared to their cultural happiness rating (which is explained in the beginning of the book).  This is interesting for some places, surprising for others and not-too revealing for a couple.

Overall, the book was a good read, though perhaps a bit less unique than what I was hoping for.  The idea sounds so intriguing, yet the narrative lies at an uncomfortable in-between of traditional travel-writing and modern experiential journalism.  I wanted to see a clear distinction.  I wanted to hear a clear voice.  A good read, but one that might be better borrowed from the library than bought at the bookstore.

Do you consider yourself to be happy?  Do you enjoy reading books on happiness?


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